March 20, 2005
PALM SUNDAY
vol. 16, no. 79

The Refining Fire of Suffering

The Crucible of Affliction and Sorrow can transform us into golden vessels of Grace if we accept the torments in the spirit of God's Will for His greater honor and glory in reparation for sins against His Most Sacred and Merciful Heart and His Mother's Immaculate and Sorrowful Heart.

    "The worldly seek to escape suffering since they see no value in it. Better to end one's life than to suffer. Better to snuff out the life of the defective infant in its mother's womb. Better to deprive the handicapped and the weak of their sustenance, even if it takes the outrageous lie of declaring them in a vegetative state or a coma, when they are obviously very much alive and will suffer a slow and agonizing death, as will Terri Schiavo if she is not rescued. But she will one day tread underfoot the ashes of her tormentors when the Lord visits His judgment upon the earth. The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah."

      Editor's Note: In Father Louis Campbell's sermon for Palm Sunday, he emphasizes the importance of suffering, not for the sake of suffering itself but for the cleansing effect it has on the soul and for reparation of the sins of so many. He magnificently shows how Holy Writ has reinforced this and points to our own suffering today in this time when so many have sold out to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Specifically he refers to the suffering of Terri Schiavo and the cruel punishment inflicted upon her and her family, especially right now as they undergo their own harsh, but necessary earthly passion inflicted by those who abhor any kind of pain; by those who eschew suffering as a weakness, when in truth it is a strength the world will never know. It is a strength that gains so much grace through the melding of the sacraments, prayer and the self-discipline of our senses in building resistance to caving to the easy way. Pain and penance, when accepted for the Will of God, forge a beautiful soul that can withstand the scourges of satan no matter where the flagellations may come from. Father provides an inspiring prayer by the holy Doctor of the Church St. Alphonsus Liguori to bring this point home in his sermon. [bold and italics below are editor's emphasis.]

    Our object in life is to change from what we once were - sinners - to become holy and obedient servants of Jesus Christ. "For you were once darkness," says St. Paul, "but now you are light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). The basic change is accomplished through Baptism, when we are "born again of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5), but spiritual maturity comes only through suffering. We are gradually transformed through suffering, if indeed we accept it in a Christ-like manner, so as to become saints. We see that even Our Savior grew in His human nature through suffering:

    "And He, Son though He was, learned obedience from the things that He suffered; and when perfected, He became to all who obey Him the cause of eternal salvation, called by God a high priest according to the order of Melchisedech" (Hebrews 5:8-10).

    Holy Scripture speaks frequently of suffering. The patriarch Job, tried in the crucible of suffering, becomes a wise and humble man. David, through trial and persecution, is repentant and humbled before the Lord: "Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. For I acknowledge my offense, and my sin is always before me…" (Ps.50:3-6).

    The change sometimes comes through a traumatic event in one's life. This is why God allows disasters to overtake us, like personal trials and illnesses, or earthquakes, hurricanes and cosmic catastrophes, so that, shaken out of our complacency and our false sense of security, we might turn to Him and be changed.

    The prophet Malachias speaks of God's refining fire and His judgment:

    "And who shall be able to think of the day of His coming? And who shall stand to see Him? For he is like a refining fire and like the fuller's herb… And a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that fear the Lord and think on His name. And they shall be My special possession, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do judgment: and I will spare them, as a man spareth his son that serveth him. And you shall return and shall see the difference between the just and the wicked: and between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not. For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud and all that do wickedly shall be stubble. And the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts: it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear My name the Sun of justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth and shall leap like calves of the herd. And you shall tread down the wicked when they shall be ashes under the sole of your feet in the day that I do this, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3:2;16-18;4:1-3).

    The message is clear. Those who "fear the Lord and think on His name" will become His holy and obedient servants, cleansed of their sins and with no fear of judgment. Those who turn their thoughts towards sinful and worldly pleasures will be stubble, burnt to ashes on the day of the Lord's just judgment.

    The worldly seek to escape suffering since they see no value in it. Better to end one's life than to suffer. Better to snuff out the life of the defective infant in its mother's womb. Better to deprive the handicapped and the weak of their sustenance, even if it takes the outrageous lie of declaring them in a vegetative state or a coma, when they are obviously very much alive and will suffer a slow and agonizing death, as will Terri Schiavo if she is not rescued. But she will one day tread underfoot the ashes of her tormentors when the Lord visits His judgment upon the earth. The Lord speaks through the prophet Isaiah:

    "Behold the hand of the Lord is not shortened that it cannot save: neither is his ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have divided between you and your God: and your sins have hid His face from you that He should not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity: your lips have spoken lies and your tongue uttereth iniquity. There is none that calleth upon justice, neither is there any one that judgeth truly: but they trust in a mere nothing and speak vanities. They have conceived labor and brought forth iniquity" (Isaias 59:1-4).

    Change is only for the worse when we are under the spell of the world around us. What we must do is turn to "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). If we contemplate the afflicted Christ as the saints did, we will become one of them. This is why the Church invites us to enter into the sacred mysteries of our salvation during Holy Week, so that we may follow the way to Calvary with Our Lord and stand with our Sorrowful Mother, the Queen of Martyrs, at the foot of the Cross, remembering the words of the prophet:

    "Despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised. Whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one stuck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities: he was bruised for our sins. The chastisement of our peace was upon him: and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaias 53:3-6).

    By His grace may we learn obedience through our sufferings, praying with the saints:

    My most beloved Jesus, I embrace all the tribulations Thou hast destined for me until death. I beseech Thee, by the merits of the pain Thou didst suffer in carrying Thy Cross, to give me the necessary help to carry mine with perfect patience and resignation. I love Thee, Jesus my love; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always; and then do with me what Thou wilt (St. Alphonsus Liguori).

Father Louis J. Campbell


March 20, 2005
vol 16, no. 79
"Qui legit, intelligat"
Father Louis Campbell's Sunday Sermons